Roles of Women in Vedic Culture
Vedic culture seems to have conflicting views regarding its attitude towards women, specifically its attitude towards a woman’s sexuality. This conflict can be seen by contrasting the ways in which women are treated in sacrificing rituals with how they are treated in a more intimate atmosphere, such as lovemaking, which is still often treated as a ritual in and of itself; ritual regarding fertility, love, and childbirth. To represent the roles of women in ritual, Stephanie W. Jamison has written “Sacrificed Wife, Sacrificer’s wife, which is a description and evaluation of women’s roles in ritual and hospitality in ancient India.
“The general subject of [Jamison’s] book is the conceptual position of women in early Indic culture, but it is not designed as an inclusive overview of women in ancient India and all the institutions and attitudes affecting them. Rather it focuses on a single, apparently marginal female role-the activities of the wife in solemn ritual… and isolates a set of conceptual functions the wife fills in ritual practice” (Jamison 4).
To get a more expansive view of women’s roles in ritual, it is important to also consider other texts, perhaps including what is known as a “sex manual” for the roles of women in other aspects of their culture. The “Kama Sutra” will help to provide a contrast between the roles of women in solemn ritual, and the roles of women in sex ritual, since sex is often viewed as just as ritualistic as the Srauta ritual, described in Jamison’s text. The two texts, combined, will illuminate a contrast between the differing views of women, as Jamison’s book illuminates negative attitudes towards a woman’s sexuality and inequalities in the participation in ritual, whereas the “Kama Sutra” will show a more egalitarian view of women’s sexuality giving it room to be praised and explored and allowing equal participation across gender lines in order for maximum sexual pleasure.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the sexual roles of women in Vedic culture, paying particularly close attention to the vast contrast and similarities between the treatment of women in ritual versus the treatment of women within the male-female relationship, keeping in mind the concept of ‘yoni’, crucial to the Vedic Scriptures, specifically the principal Upanishads. To make this comparison, I intend to compare the discussion of these roles in “Sacrificed Wife, Sacrificer’s Wife” with the portrayal of women in “The Kama Sutra”. These texts are particularly interesting due to their referral to the same culture with completely different lenses that illuminate certain contradictions, yet they contain many similarities. In “Sacrificed Wife, Sacrificer’s Wife” the woman is looked at as a tool for ritual and a server of hospitality, even though she is still viewed as the bringer of sexuality. In the “Kama Sutra” this sexual aspect is further explored, in a way that is perhaps more...